It’s hard being George during Lent

Seeing people doing something for somebody else could be his way to get ‘closer to God’

By George Valadie

I just don’t know what I’m going to do,” my wife uttered with a stressful tone of indecision heading downhill toward frustration.

“I don’t know whether to wear my jeans or these nicer pants. What do you think everyone else will be wearing?”

She’d been at this for a while, but rather than propose a final solution sure to be ignored, I replied with what I usually offer when she faces such life-altering quandaries.

“It must be hard being you!”

We laughed and added another to the list of first-world problems we are lucky enough to endure. And for sure, I’ve got plenty of my own.

But I’m not kidding. During Lent, it’s hard being me.

I never seem to know which way to go. Give something up, take something on. Whichever I choose, I seldom do so with conviction, more convinced my efforts would be weak or trivial, inadequate at best.

I mean, after all, the man chose to die for me. And rather harshly at that. Me … I’ve been thinking about foregoing some Diet Coke.

Even now, I keep hunting for what feels right. And yes, I know we’re already 30 days in.

Back on Ash Wednesday, Father said, “What good is it if you give up red meat when you have gout and shouldn’t be eating it anyway?

“And what good is it if you’re pre-diabetic and give up the sweets you know you shouldn’t have?

“And what good is it if you give up carbs because your weight has been stuck for 22 years, and this seems like the perfect opportunity to jumpstart a change?

“The good those things do is just for you,” he preached. “No one else. Instead, find something, do something, pray something that brings you closer to God.”

Closer to God?

God, I wish I knew what that felt like.

Another priest podcast to which I listen suggested that life is hard for almost all of us. Higher prices, challenging jobs, it might be illness or conflict or sadness.

So, rather than give up something that makes our days even harder, he suggested that instead we should all just search for, recognize, and celebrate the moments of joy in our lives. A gift from God we often take for granted.

OK, that’s another path. And who couldn’t use a little more joy in their lives?

Stupid as it may sound, my search also took me to the internet. I googled “Lenten ideas.” A little embarrassing since Christians worldwide have for thousands of years found millions of ways to experience meaningful Lents—all without benefit of a laptop.

It felt stupid when I did it.

More stupid when it suggested I get a Lenten-themed coloring book and spend a few moments each day with some crayons.

Closer to God? I couldn’t see it.

I’ve been reading the Gospels. I was feeling good about it, too, better able to imagine the scenes and the people since I’ve been watching “The Chosen.” Until I got to the chapters about the Passion and crucifixion.

Reading a book—even the Bible—seems a much-too-inadequate use of my 40 days when I read what He endured in His final 40.

Ten days left, and I’ve bounced all over the place.

There was a time, though, when I had it all figured out. I miss those days. Things seemed simple then. I was 12.

No candy during the week, no meat on Friday. Heaven and hell hung in the balance.

Like when my single-parent mom had come home to her four kids after a long week of work, forgot about the fish thing, and cooked burgers for our Friday-night dinner.

Feeling righteous and right, I told her we were all going to hell, and she would be the reason. She tried to reason with me; she should have slapped me.

It’s gotten more confusing ever since.

Though there is good news! Finally perhaps—at age 70—I’ve seen a hint of what I think these 40 days could be about.

As I’ve mentioned before, we have invited our youngest, Sarah, her husband, Keith—and now their new baby, Harper—to live upstairs at our home.

Our collective goal is the opportunity to save money for an eventual home of their own.

And why not? Plenty of room up there, and since our other two girls have families of their own, it was an empty space that felt way too empty.

Keith, and our other two sons-in-law, Clint and Jeremy, are all Christian and Christ-like, and those two are not the same. But they are not of the Catholic faith.

They have a sense of the 40-day rules; they’re just not bound by them.

As for me, it’s my pretty-much-everyday routine to enjoy a breakfast of bacon and an English muffin. In the world of favorite foods, bacon might be at the top.

For Keith, too.

As they considered marriage, he knew he was supposed to and willingly agreed to raise their new baby in the Catholic faith.

But nobody told him about the Friday bacon thing.

Recently, though, I discovered he has been quietly omitting it from his own Friday fare because, as he shared with Sarah, “I just can’t do that to your dad. Making someone smell bacon they’re not allowed to eat in their own home is just cruel.”

So, in short, you can see his Lent is going better than mine—he’s giving up something to make it easier for someone else who has to.

Clint is married to Katy, our oldest, and he’s the chef of their family. And a good one. He grills and smokes and has concocted a wide variety of masterpieces.

I think he took it up when early in their dating days he found himself trekking along with all of us to Captain D’s each Friday of Lent.

We like it there; he does not. Not at all. Hates it actually. But there he was.

So, you can see the irony.

We Catholics must admit that giving up meat on Fridays is hardly sacrificial when you’re simply switching to restaurant fish you love just as much.

While it’s the non-Catholics who didn’t have to and didn’t want to—but did.

And there it is. Or maybe there it should be.

People doing something for somebody else.

Maybe it’s words. Maybe it’s deeds. Maybe it’s 40 different people.

Maybe it’s 40 different kindnesses for one in particular. Maybe they’re aware. Maybe they’re not.

Or maybe it’s some odd and unbalanced combination of all of that. But it’s people doing something for somebody else.

And maybe it could be my way to get “closer to God.”

Dear God—There’s no shortage of people who feel as if their every day is lived in the desert. During these 40 days, may we find a way to help them while you’re busy saving us. Amen.


George Valadie is a parishioner at St. Stephen Church in Chattanooga and author of the newly released book “We Lost Our Fifth Fork … and other moments when we need some perspective.”

Comments 1

  1. Thank you so much for this sharing!
    I am almost 70 as well and reflecting on some of the same things you are.
    This really spoke to me.
    Thank you and may God bless you!

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